Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blu-ray Review: BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958)


Label: Twilight Time DVD 
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 103 Mins
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p High Definition / 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Richard Quine

Synopsis: After teaming memorably in Alfred Hitchcock’s haunting Vertigo, James Stewart and Kim Novak are together again in the whimsical Bell Book and Candle (1958), a spellbinding romantic comedy directed by Richard Quine and based on John Van Druten’s Broadway hit. Stewart plays a New York publisher entranced by a mysteriously bewitching young woman (Novak); mesmerizing supporting performances by the likes of Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester, and Janice Rule lend quirky comic charm to the proceedings. Cinematographer James Wong Howe gives us a glamorous vision of Manhattan, enhanced by George Duning’s sophisticated score.

The Film: The story begins on Christmas Eve and Gillian (Kim Novak, Vertigo) is a modern day witch living in Manhattan. She's the proprietor of a primitive art shop on the ground floor of an apartment building where she lives with her cat Pyewacket. She's a bit bored with her life and longs for true love - something witches are not capable of feeling. The object of her affection is Shepherd (James Stewart, North By Northwest) a book publisher living in the apartment above her, but they are strangers and have never met.

Gillian's nosy aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein) lives in the apartment above the book publisher and uses a bit of witchcraft to prompt an introduction between the two by jinxing Shep's telephone. When he pays Gil a visit to use her telephone to call in a repair he overhears the witchy women speak of a nightclub called The Zodiac. Later that night Shepherd attends The Zodiac club with his fiancee Merle (Janice Rule, 3 Women) unaware that the nightclub is actually a nightspot for Manhattan's witch and warlock community. It's here we meet Gillian's brother Nicky (Jack Lemon, Grumpy Old Men) - an effervescent  bongo-playing warlock.

Over drinks we discover that Merle and Gil attended the same college and the two are a bit adversarial, the conversation over drinks is just short of being catty, it's fun stuff. Spurred perhaps by her distatse Merle the yearning witch casts a spell on Shepherd with the assistance of her cat Pyewacket the night before he's too marry Merle which sends him head over heels in love with her - not that one requires the assistance of magic to pine away for Kim Novaks, she's such a stunner, truly an otherworldly beauty and never more mesmerizing that here.

James Stewart as the romantic lead is just what you would expect, a well-meaning rubber-faced straight man in what would be his last romantic lead role. Kim Novak is captivating from start to finish as the slightly bored witch looking for love. Supporting comedic roles from Lanchester and Lemon bring with it much of the films humor as does a too brief appearance from funnyman Ernie Kovacs as the red-nosed author writing an expose on the Manhattan witchcraft scene.

The jazzed-up score from George Dunning is a keeper and James Wong Howe's cinematography looks fantastic, particularly scenes of a snow-covered Manhattan and the wonderfully lit interior scenes of The Zodiac club, great stuff.

Blu-ray: Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation sourced from a Sony master looks quite fetching  in 1080p. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) looks fantastic with vibrant colors,  a nice layer of film grain with pleasing fine detail and a crisp sharpness - the images of a snow covered Manhattan are truly mesmerizing as are the scenes at the Zodiac club - James Wong Howe's cinematography is something wonderful here.

The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA also sounds superb, dialogue and the jazzy George Dunning (Picnic) score sound great. The dialogue is crisp and the score sounds truly vibrant, particularly when a jazzed up version of "Stormy Weather" - great stuff.

Special Features: 
- Isolated Score Track 
- "Bewitched, Bothered and Blonde" 
- "Reflections in the Middle of the Night" 
- Original Theatrical Trailer
-  Exclusive 8pg. color booklet featuring extensive Julie Kirgo liner notes and film art

Twilight Time aren't exactly known for their wealth of bonus materials but here we a bit more than the usual beginning with an isolated music score of George Dunning's great jazz-inflected score in 5.1 DTS-HD MA - it's a great score - the isolated score is a Twilight Time signature, they do love a good score.

We also get to featurettes, the first Bewitched, Bothered and Blonde features an audio interview with star Kim Novak speaking of her time on Bell Book and Candle and her relationship with co-star James Stewart whom she clearly adored and director Robert Quine whom it is rumored she was having an affair with during filming. The second featurette Reflections in the Middle of the Night features Novak talking about her next film following Bell Book and Candle,Middle of the Night (1959). Each featurette is comprised of a moderated audio interview with  accompanying footage of the film. Rounding out the features is the original theatrical trailer.

Verdict: Bell Book and Candle is a truly bewitching 50's romantic comedy featuring the fantastic duo of James Stewart and the stunning Kim Novak whom appeared the same year in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo - they are a great pair. The film is an odd marriage of romance and the occult that's a bit dark at times but with just the right amount of fantasy and whimsy - definitely not the usual cult, horror and exploitation fare you read about here at the Mausoleum but this gets a high recommend from me.  Fans of Kim Novak should take not that Twilight Time also have Blu-rays of Pal Joey (1957) and her star-making performance in Picnic (1955) but as with all of the Twilight Time Blu-ray they are limited edition releases of 3,000 only and available exclusively from so get 'em before they're gone. 4 outta 5